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Guide your virtualization, IT investment strategy with 2017's top tips

2017 presented virtualization admins with the development of new technology and products. Read the year's best tips on how to compare functionalities, weigh costs and make investments.

Over the course of 2017, the development of new technologies gave virtualization admins plenty of new products and tools to examine and compare. As exciting as some innovations can be, a smart IT investment strategy looks at both possibility and practicality. The future of the data center is full of potential, but admins need to remain focused on the blunt facts of cost, functionality and compatibility.

Compare the costs of VMware and vSphere to make the best decision

Curiosity about price followed VMware Cloud on AWS until its release. Now, virtualization admins can take a step back and compare costs between this new offering and on-premises vSphere.

VMware Cloud on AWS has two pricing models: one is on-demand structure, the other a reserved model of one or three years. The on-demand cost is $8.37 an hour per host, whereas it will run you $51,987 per host to reserve for one year and $109,366 per host for three years. Each host includes two CPUs for a total of 36 cores, 512 GB of RAM and 10 TB of flash storage for both options. The price isn't terrible if you consider the power you're getting in return, but costs can quickly rise if you need to keep the environment online at all times.

If you compare list prices from server manufacturers with similar hardware specs, processor cores and reasonably priced CPUs, similar spec server hardware can cost about $54,000. This places vSphere at a comparable price for base hardware costs in the first year for a reserved host, but if you purchase the hardware, you can also avoid capital costs.

In the end, the cost comparison will rest on facilities, networking and maintenance costs -- all of which depend on the unique needs of your data center. There is no absolute answer, so a smart IT investment strategy will need to take into account the costs in context with your data center.

Look beyond cost when you compare Windows and Linux for your virtualized environment

The IT world has been abuzz with the licensing changes to Windows Server 2016. After the first eight cores, Windows Server 2016 will be priced on a per-core licensing model, which will increase the costs for those who wish to update to Microsoft's latest server OS. These prices and the additional costs required to license hypervisors for a virtualized infrastructure can strain budgets. Virtualization admins who are conscious of costs in their IT investment strategy might be tempted to flee to Linux, which is open source, with the option of paid third-party support.

Though this is compelling, Microsoft still maintains a clear advantage in application compatibility due to its significantly larger install base. Counter to that, Linux maintains an advantage when it comes to resources, primarily because it's built around the command line rather than a GUI. Despite this advantage, most in IT are more familiar with Windows, and as updates, patches and crashes occur, the complexity of Linux, as well as the challenge of the command-line structure, might make Linux seem daunting.

As you try to maintain a smart IT investment strategy, consider the advice of experts like IT architect Brian Kirsch, who said that applications and support should drive purchasing decisions, not upfront licensing costs.

Cloud bursting is compelling if it fits your virtualized infrastructure

Cloud bursting gives organizations the ability to burst an app into a public cloud from a private cloud or data center when demand suddenly rises. At first glance, a cloud bursting architecture seems like a perfect tactic in an IT investment strategy; after all, it gives organizations more power, but only when they need it. Upon further inspection, however, this shifting isn't as seamless as advertised, and for some businesses, it's simply impossible without the right infrastructure.

Cloud bursting requires a significant degree of automation, and the underlying infrastructure of a data center is often too different. Some providers, like Microsoft and Oracle, offer cloud capabilities on premises that are similar to the public cloud. For users who want a public cloud that uses the same virtualized infrastructure as their data center, VMware offers the ability to run it on Amazon Web Services and IBM SoftLayer.

At this point, however, all of these cases raise the question of cost in comparison to a relatively simple hardware reallocation. Despite the seeming advantages, virtualization admins need to focus on the pragmatic realities. You might need to reconsider your private cloud or traditional systems and examine whether cloud bursting is necessary at all if you can push to the public fast enough.

Ultimately, pragmatic organizations need to keep in mind that hardware and software costs make private clouds and traditional systems costly; cloud compatibility is, for the most part, nonexistent, and complex deployment models can incur higher labor costs.

Examine cost and functionality when choosing a hypervisor

The choice of hypervisor is a critical component of any IT investment strategy -- both because of how important the technology is and how difficult it is to replace. Each hypervisor has different levels of complexity and functionality, but you can simplify the process if you evaluate the vendors.

VMware ESX/ESXi dominates other hypervisor vendors when it comes to bare metal, and VMware provides a library of tools, both first- and third-party. The total cost of ownership (TCO) will be higher due to licensing and training costs, but VMware's products are mature and feature integration with Docker, OpenStack and others.

KVM is another bare-metal hypervisor, but it's for Linux and is open source. Red Hat has made KVM easier to use through simplified operations and deployment tools in its supported version, and it also offers automation and configuration tools from Ansible. KVM's TCO is low, and it's relatively stable due to its active community.

Microsoft's Hyper-V is another option, though it's not as advanced as VMware. The future of Hyper-V is currently uncertain, despite its stability and decent TCO, because Microsoft is investing heavily in the cloud and Azure Stack.

Finally, Citrix offers XenServer, which has a number of issues, from features to performance to overhead costs. Its head start in the virtualization market makes it a relatively mature product, but its ecosystem lags behind other hypervisor providers.

A smart IT investment strategy must take into account context and cost.

A smart IT investment strategy must take into account context and cost. Broadly speaking, VMware will likely be best for heavy virtualization users, and Hyper-V will be best for Microsoft shops. If cost is a primary concern, KVM fits Linux-based platforms, while Xen fits those that mix Linux and Windows.

According to cloud computing and storage consultant Jim O'Reilly, the most forward-thinking virtualization admins will have the development of cloud and container technologies in mind as they make these decisions because both could prove disruptive to the hypervisor market.

Innovative storage technologies can further consolidate virtualized data centers

As 2017 comes to a close and IT budgets open up in the new year, IT staff will get another chance to modernize their data centers. Virtualization has already put many data centers on the path to consolidation and hardware efficiency, but a deliberate IT investment strategy will push this process, and storage tends to be a good place to start.

As data consumption has grown, the importance of data storage has grown in tandem. Like virtualization before it, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) has revolutionized server and storage hardware design. Combining storage, compute and networking technologies has only become more practical as hardware components have shrunk.

Though skeptics might doubt how ready HCI is for the enterprise at any particular moment, the costs and complexities of external storage show that HCI will eventually find a place. If you're still wary, VMware offers vSAN and other software-defined storage products that can help you transition from big storage to a more mature HCI.

Software-defined networking (SDN) is also garnering a lot of attention, much of it due to VMware's NSX and its ability to enable other technologies in a modernized data center. As cloud usage grows, the focus has shifted to workload management, security and mobility. Though SDN technology still tends to be expensive and complex, the potential it has to improve data centers' use of the cloud means admins must keep a close eye on it.

As you design your IT investment strategy in 2018, keep in mind that much of the seemingly radical technological shifts are actually evolutions, so it's often best to start by cleaning out old technology and modernizing what you can. 

This was last published in December 2017

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